right of reply

Simon Curtis replies to David Lister's argument that more theatre productions should be televised

Working at the BBC, you have to get used to reading how you ought to be doing your job in the national press. David Lister is outraged that in this country we televise "virtually none of our theatre", and cites Sam Mendes's recent production of Cabaret as a show that deserves to be seen on television and recorded for posterity. Unfortunately, his point is somewhat undermined by the fact that it was broadcast recently on Carlton Television. This neatly illustrates one of the disadvantages to broadcasters of televising work already seen on stage. It is next to impossible to attract attention in any media for work that has already been well covered on the arts pages and elsewhere.

I am the executive producer of the BBC's Performance series, and I have recently produced a number of theatre productions, including David Hare's Absence of War directed by Richard Eyre, Harold Pinter's Landscape and Karel Reisz's production of The Deep Blue Sea.

In the current climate, it is essential to create a sense of event around the single transmission of a film or play. This is very hard with a show that is already in the public domain. David Lister bemoans that no one has recorded the Fiona Shaw/ Deborah Warner Richard II, but I produced a television version of their last collaboration - the excellent Hedda Gabler - and it was watched by less than half the audience of our new television version of A Doll's House by the same playwright.

It is often as expensive to take a theatre production into a television studio as it is to create a new show, so it is wrong to expect the beleaguered television companies to take the burden of recording work for posterity. When you look at old theatre shows on film now they are at best curiosities, and even the great Olivier seems to be wildly overacting. When you do a play in the theatre in New York, it is roughly taped by a crew from the Lincoln Center Library. A camera is simply pointed at the proscenium arch, and this serves as a record of the production, but its value as good television would be very limited. Opera might still work in long shot but I believe a television audience would no longer tolerate intimate drama broadcast in this form.

David Lister would be surprised how hard it is to get permission to record an existing show in the theatre. At the BBC we have been refused permission more often than we have been granted it. This can be because the rights are not available, or because there is a dream of a feature film or Broadway transfer. We offered to take The Rise and Fall of Little Voice into the studio at the end of its run in the West End, and permission was refused by a director developing it as a feature film. I maintain that a television broadcast three years ago would have very little impact on whether a film is now made.

Superb theatre does not always make good television. Some shows are made to be performed with a live audience and not meant to be crammed into the small screen or shown in close up. Stephen Daldry's magnificent Machinal could only work on stage. Force- feeding a reluctant public with worthy but unexciting stage transfers does nobody any good. Our duty is not to be a theatre archive but to make good television.

Theatre will always be a prime source for film and television producers, and I am delighted to be in pre-production with Arthur Miller's Broken Glass and Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg, not only because they were great hits in the theatre but because we believe they will transfer successfully to the small screen.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas